The resurrection, the end of death, and the New Creation all occur at the “arrival” of Jesus at the end of the present age.
When certain church members at Corinth denied the future resurrection, Paul responded by stressing the necessity for the bodily resurrection, and he began by appealing to the past resurrection of Jesus as the precedent for the future resurrection of believers, a key event that will coincide with his “arrival” in glory, his parousia.
But the Apostle also revealed something new. Believers who remain alive when Jesus does “arrive” will be transformed and receive immortal bodies. On that day, the bodily resurrection of the righteous means nothing less than the end of death and the implementation of the New Creation.
In advancing his argument, the Apostle presented the sequence of events that will precede his Parousia. Paul began with the rhetorical question:
- “If Christ is proclaimed that he has been raised from among the dead, how say some of you there is no resurrection of the dead?” – (1 Corinthians 15:12).
The issue in play was the absolute necessity for the resurrection and all his arguments were employed to support that proposition. The foundation of his position was the past resurrection of Jesus.
If there is no future resurrection, then “not even Christ has been raised,” and if that is the case, the gospel message is null and void. Thus, the future resurrection of believers is based on the past resurrection of Jesus and pivotal to the faith of the church.
Next, he argued that “all will be made alive, but each in his own rank” or “order.” Jesus was the “first-fruit” of the resurrection. He rose first, and the rest will follow “at his arrival” or parousia. And that event which will constitute “the end, when he delivers up the kingdom to God and brings to nothing all rule, authority, and power.”
In making his case, the Apostle described the general order of events that would precede the resurrection of believers. The raising of the dead began with Jesus, he was the “firstborn of the dead,” and at his “arrival” the process would be completed – (1 Corinthians 15:23).
Elsewhere in his letters, Paul used the Greek noun parousia for the “coming” or “arrival” of Jesus. For example, in his first letter to the Thessalonians, he linked the resurrection to that day:
- (1 Thessalonians 4:12-15) – “If we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him” – (1 Thessalonians 2:19, 3:13, 4:12-15, 5:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, 2:8).
The chronological key for when the resurrection will occur is the “arrival” of Jesus. That will mean nothing less than “the end” of the present age and the cessation of death. “Death” is the “last enemy” that will be destroyed. Then, Christ will deliver up the “kingdom to God,” and after that, “God will be in all” – (1 Corinthians 15:24-28).
The complete subjugation of his enemies before his parousia indicates he reigns even now. This is confirmed by messianic promises cited in the New Testament and applied to Jesus, including in the present passage:
- (Psalm 2:6-9) – “Yet I have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: Yahweh said to me: You are my son; this day have I begotten you. Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession. You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
Paul’s purpose was not to present all the details, events, and chronologies related to the return of Jesus. He introduced specific subjects to support his argument for the bodily resurrection of believers. Christ was raised as the “first-fruit” of them who “sleep.” Logically, dead believers who “sleep” participate in the same kind of resurrection that he did, but at the proper time.
In the conclusion to his argument, Paul returned to the cessation of death:
- (1 Corinthians 15:51-58) – “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed… During the last trumpet; for it shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.”
The termination of death itself coincides with the “arrival” and the resurrection of the dead. His return in glory will mark the final overthrow of the enemies of God, including death, and the consummation of His rule. After that, there will be no more enemies left to conquer; therefore, Death will be no more.
But the bodily resurrection does not mean resuscitation of corpses. Instead, our mortal bodies will be transformed into another kind of body. Resurrection produces bodies geared for life in the Spirit, and ones that no longer are subject to decay and death. The irrefutable evidence for this transformation is the glorified body of Jesus. This means is life in the age to come will be an embodied existence, not a disembodied state, and that resurrection is nothing less than an act of new creation. – (1 Corinthians 15:35-50).
Paul concluded by demonstrating the necessity for the transformation of the body. Both living and dead saints must be transformed when Jesus returns. The living will be changed and the dead resurrected, and that means that death must also cease.
The “mystery” that Paul revealed to the Corinthians is that Christians who remain alive when Jesus returns will be physically transformed. The Christian hope rests on the belief in the future resurrection and life in a transformed Creation; everlasting life means transformation and new creation.
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